Figs and tomatoes drying out in the sun, elderly women seated ‘’al fresco’’ in the village alleys and clothes lines with hanging linens drying in the warm air. These are the first images that come to my mind when thinking about Italy.
I have been living abroad for over 8 years now and every time I say I am Italian, people’s eyes light up while they exclaim “Italia Bella!”A place of dreams that is either on everyone’s bucket list or the best trip they have ever taken. “Il paese più bello del mondo”. It may sound prosaic, but from North to South, Italy is THE place to admire beautiful landscapes, discover fascinating culture, taste delicious food and encounter incredibly welcoming people. Hospitality is in our blood and this is why travelling through Italy easily becomes a love story.
Beyond being pure “poesia,” Italy is also among the best destinations to embrace a mindful way of travelling.
While nowadays sustainability is a popular word used as a label, here it is a lifestyle. A mindset to approach every aspect of life, aiming to respect the community, enhance the local culture and limit the impact on the environment acting in a way that allows a long-lasting use of resources.
Sustainability is a journey made by simple steps that everyone can take, digest and truly endorse over time. Within this vision, travelling responsibly is a fulfilling experience, a sincere conversation where both travellers and hosting communities can understand and undergo different ways of living to eventually approach life in a forward-thinking manner. Since Italians are so natural when it comes to sharing their wisdom and awareness and a country with such a unique variety, Italy is the place to be to approach this way of travelling.
Defining Italy, the preserved peculiarity of each Italian region makes the country a gem. Each area has its own treasures and folklore that “Italiani” have been able to preserve in many different ways, from handing down recipes “della nonna” to continuously celebrating hundreds of religious feasts. A Sardinian shepherd described to me poetic images of a celebration: “the day of the year when all our conflicts and envies cease.” He was describing Madonna D’Itria, the feast celebrated 40 days after Easter in a rural church surrounded by flowered fields; where elderly and young come together, staying awake overnight to pray and honour the Virgin. Talking to locals is the only way to get closer to the authentic side of a country and, if you are curious, travelling through Italy can be the most inspiring journey. Here you don’t visit a place to tick a box, but truly embrace a “stile di vita”, a style of life.
This is how I define responsible tourism. Not a fleeting trend or something to be flagged through a certification, but a rooted choice to live “il viaggio” differently.
The true travel experience is made of human connections where travellers are engaged discoverers, rather than tourists; and it is by fostering these connections that every voyage becomes a personal growth opportunity and a leap towards a sustainable lifestyle.
In this context, the role of conscious travellers is to choose the destinations, accommodations and experiences carefully, and actively look for a cultural exchange with their hosts, guides and local communities to truly grasp the renowned Italian culture.
To enable this approach and discover Italy’s offer through the eyes of a responsible explorer, I spent the last two months travelling through my home country driven by this ethos.
I visited il Bel Paese from Sicily to Alto Adige, passing through Sardinia, Apulia, Campania, Abruzzo, Umbria, Tuscany and Piedmont. Besides the outright splendour of the Italian landscapes, meeting the ambassadors of this beauty has been the most uplifting experience.
Incredibly kind and knowledgeable people, they are true believers who see sustainability as a way of living before being a business. Pioneers with an unconditional passion for their land and its incredibly rich heritage. From local wine and food producers, to artisans, guides and property owners driven since forever by sustainable and biodynamic principles. They are all messengers of an existential philosophy passed down through generations, who started their activity to spread their vision for a better world where everything is developed in an enlightened way and where “sustainability” is the only option available. What today is becoming a product and a marketing tool, for many Italians has always been a method to approach everyday life naturally looking for a balance with the land. This is why Italy offers countless opportunities for mindful travellers to familiarise with the idea of circular economy regarding both tourist consumption alternatives and production habits. Concepts that now sound fashionable like “from farm to table”, “respect the cycle of seasons”, “local”, “heritage discovery” and “nature reconnection” are all intrinsic parts of the Italian authentic DNA and many of its tourist offerings.
Whether you stay in a masseria in Puglia or in an agriturismo in the Abruzzese countryside, you’ll see that being sustainable is the Italians’ second nature and you’ll get to know the unintentional poets and storytellers that make Italy so human and authentic. Spending time with them cooking local specialties, trekking on a mountain overhanging the sea, visiting a traditional textile art museum, or strolling in the woods with dogs searching for black truffles, is the true way of having an experiential and responsible journey.
Conscious explorers will discover an Italy made by small businesses committed to constantly grow in value rather than only in volume and whose mission is to give back to their beloved nation. Families who have decided to open their home to curious travellers, not tourists, while involving the local communities allowing them to be part of their vision to grow in a responsible way. This is why in these places you will feel at home while slowly starting to share the hosts’ devotion to Italy. This absolute respect and love for the country is exactly what Italy needs: a continuous and genuine celebration of its “bellezza”.
And so, to sum it up… Here are my three modern conscious traveler tips:
- Andare: Go off-the-beaten-path to unveil the real charm of Italy
- Assaporare: Travel slowly, taking your time to enjoy every destination properly
- Imparare: Ask, ask, ask locals and be always willing to learn and share your experience
Andrea Martina Specchio is the founder of Be My Journey which enables travelers to journey responsibly